by: Wes Ishmael

“The problem with you young'uns is that you always think you have it worster than anybody who came before,” said LeRoy Littlejohn. “Pay attention: today ain't any better or worster, it's just today.”

LeRoy was ancient. The lines in his face looked deep enough to hide in. His hair, mostly silver now, was still thick; his black eyes continued to sparkle with mischief.

It was the late Pockets Geronimo who introduced Hooter and Peetie to LeRoy decades earlier, and just the once.

“Meet my brother,” Pockets had said. They didn't know whether Pockets meant the relationship literally or in terms of being from the same tribe.

At the time, Hooter and Peetie were scouting some pasture near the Medicine Mounds—near in the sense that you could see the string of four mounds on the horizon, might be 10 miles away, could be 50. LeRoy was the first necessary step in getting a chance to lease the ground.

In later years, piecing together the rare snippets of information grudgingly shared by Pockets over time, Hooter and Peetie reckoned that he and LeRoy must be descendants of Chief Quanah Parker, the Comanche warrior and chief who first fought the buffalo-decimating White Man, then encouraged his people to assimilate to many of the White Man's ways after his tribe had been shoved onto a reservation in Oklahoma.

Quanah Parker's mother, Cynthia Ann Parker—a white woman kidnapped as a child by the Comanche—assimilated to tribal life to the point that she never wanted to leave, but lawmen from the White tribe “rescued” and relocated her anyway. Quanah Parker's father—Cynthia Ann's husband—was the Comanche chief, Peta Nacona

Tough is in the Eyes of the Beholder

All these years later, Hooter and Peetie were meeting with LeRoy at the same spot, about the same lease, hoping for a different answer.

LeRoy's admonition to the “young'uns” stemmed from the preceding get-reacquainted conversation and LeRoy wondering why they were interested in the ground.

Peetie took the pragmatic approach, it's the only way he knew.

“Mr. Littlejohn, I've long admired this country,” Peetie explained. “I've bought yearlings coming off this grass and know how strong it is. Having this lease would allow us to put those first pounds on ourselves. It would also save us some freight.”

LeRoy smiled, then looked at Hooter, his eyes demanding additional perspective.

“It's good country for running and gathering,” Hooter said. “It's plain to see those who've been here haven't done anything to abuse the ground. We wouldn't either.”

LeRoy's steely gaze softened a touch.

“When I first saw these pastures, it was from the other way around,” LeRoy said, looking and pointing to the Mounds. “From up there, you can see further than people think you can. There weren't any buffalo, but I could see them. From up there, you can hear them, too.”

Peetie and Hooter sensed the conversation was going another direction and they were unsure of the destination.

“When my brother Pockets first brought you to me, do you remember what you said about the ground then?”

Peetie and Hooter glanced at one another.

“If memory serves, I told you much the same as we're saying now,” Peetie said. “I don't remember Hooter saying much at all.”

Hooter remembered feeling about two inches tall. Peetie was a dozen years his senior, already successful at the time. Hooter was proud and scared to be invited into that first partnership. He wasn't going to do or say anything to jeopardize the deal. Truth be told, he didn't feel any taller today.

“Your memory does serve you,” LeRoy said. “That's exactly what you told me. Do you also remember what I said?”

That was harder. Both Hooter and Peetie remembered their drive on the way back to Apache Flats that day, trying to figure out exactly what LeRoy had meant by the questions he'd asked during their brief conversation.

“I believe you asked us what we thought of President Reagan, the high interest rates, the state of the world in general and why we thought we had any business owning cattle,” Peetie recalled.

“Yes, that's right.”

Peetie knew he was supposed to continue. “I reckoned that Reagan seemed like a decent sort, that interest rates couldn't go much higher, that civil unrest here and around the world was as bad as it had ever been, and that the Cold War and the threat of nuclear destruction made every day dicey. What with too much leverage taking farms and ranches under left and right, to the point of some taking their own lives, I figured that anybody still standing upright in the cow business, with a bank behind them, had a better than even chance of surviving the future.”

“Yes, that's much as I remember it,” LeRoy said.

Hooter remembered wanting to disagree at the time but hadn't. On the way home he told Peetie, “You know that picture I have of my grandpa at branding time?”

Peetie knew it well. It was the only picture on Hooter's wall.

“Grandpa was a young man then,” Hooter explained. “It was 1939. Just after the Great Depression, on either side of the Dust Bowl, after one World War and just before the next. Mom was just a girl then, born and raised on that ranch. If you figured the end of the world was at hand, that times were worse than they'd every been, wouldn't you have figured it was then? But there they were, gathering and working cattle like they thought they had a chance.”

Peetie hadn't said much.

“And how would you answer the same questions today?” LeRoy asked.

Peetie hesitated for a moment. “Well, interest rates are still a problem, but from exactly the opposite end of the scale. There's some days I agree with President Trump and some that I don't. Society is even more at odds with itself today than it was then, though I wouldn't have believed it. The world still seems on the brink of war most every day. In terms of being in the cattle business, my answer is the same.”

LeRoy looked at Hooter, who was struggling to figure what he might add to the conversation that would be more helpful than not.

After too long, LeRoy said. “You are making some progress, considering your words, accepting silence as an ally.”

LeRoy looked back to the Mounds in the distance.

“Where did the Great Spirit come into your project back then, and where today? All that talk and no mention.” LeRoy said. “I like you boys and your talk of plans, it makes me smile. The answer is the same as last time.”

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